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Monday, August 22, 2011

They taught us to live

August 22, 2011. On this day thirty-three years ago, I was 27 years old and I got the worst news I ever had: my father, mother, and brother had been killed in an automobile accident in Ontonagon, Michigan. They’d been enjoying a camping and fishing trip. Pop was 51, Mum was 48, and George was 13.

I wonder how many words I’ve written about that day, about their deaths, about them. Lots. Sometimes I think I can’t possibly write another word or cry another tear, but there’s an endless font of both.
I’m not a crying type of person, but when I think of Mum and Pop and George, my eyes get wet immediately. It’s the hurt that keeps on giving, the gut-hole that keeps on expanding. To never see my folks grow old, to never see my brother grow up, is an ache indescribable. To not have them around to share my joys and sorrows as I raised my children has been a loneliness unimaginable. How do I describe a pain that is a lack? Is there a word for a grief over what might have been?

I know a woman who is dying now. Her children are all adults. As a result of the mess around her divorce from their dad, some of the children are estranged from her. I don’t know the children, but I wish I could say to them, “Go say goodbye to your mom. You don’t have to understand or forgive her. Just give her a hug and say, ‘I remember when I was a little kid and you were my mom, raising me. Thanks.’” Or something like that. I know that if they don’t at least go visit her, they’ll regret it all their lives. Years could stretch long, carrying a regret like that.
On Mum and Pop and George’s gravestone, we had the words carved: “They taught us to live.” I wish I could say that I’ve always lived my life perfectly as a result of getting a death-lesson so young. But it wouldn’t be true. I’ve tried to be a human being in my roles as worker, friend, in-law, wife, mother, sister, aunt, and grandma. But I’ve failed many times. My failures bother me to this day. Sometimes I understand my failures and learn from them. Other times, I’m mystified and there’s no happy resolution.

I guess I’ll just keep trying. Maybe that’s the message of the gravestone. They taught us to live. If that doesn’t mean “Keep trying to be a human being,” I don’t know what else it could mean.
 Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, and Don't Worry Baby, all available on


  1. I am so sorry Gail. I never knew that about your family. I know it is late but I am so sorry for you loss. You made me cry just reading your story. Love you lots....Sandy

  2. Gail, Thanks for sharing this so very personal story. I am sorry for you loss and revel in the way in which you have continued to endeavor to make your own life complete. ...Kevin O'Connor

  3. What a touching. lovely post. Like Sandy, I found myself getting teary. I can't even imagine what you've been through and what you still must go through to this day. No wonder you cherish people so much.

    The writer in me couldn't help but admire so much of what you wrote, but this line stood out: Years could stretch long, carrying a regret like that. So simply put, but so true.

  4. I know my children were deprived of their presence. I wondered millions of times "what if they had been here." Life is not easy to navigate. I have felt their presence at times, the ultimate gift will be to return to their fold when our days on earth are over. Love and prayers to you Gail and your wonderful family.

  5. I appreciate that you folks wrote comments. Thanks for the love! I hesitate to play the "grief card," but this week it poured out of me. During the last five years, it has been George I have felt the most. I wonder why. I have learned to adjust to living with mystery. And I sure do wonder what it will be like to, as Laura says, "return to their fold when our days on earth are over." And yes, Karen, death sure has made me cherish people... even if I "biff" it with them so often! Yup, Kevin, I'll keep working on making my own life complete. And Sandy & Karen, sorry (not) about the tears! You know writers love to make people cry... and laugh!

  6. Meriel ChristensenJuly 29, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    As long as I've known you I never heard this story. I too am really sorry this happened to you. Lately I have been refusing to go on a pity party due to the loss of Gene and my first husband Tom. I have become so aware of the fact that the world is full of broken hearts. I recently read that it is when the heart is broken open it is easier for God to come in and fill the space. It is hard to live without Gene but for me it would be impossible to live without God. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. I love what you wrote - "When the heart is broken open it is easier for God to come in and fill the space." I believe that is true, Meriel! Thank you so much for your comments.